Ben Franklin and the Electric Christmas Turkey

22 Dec 2015, Posted by Founding Franklin in The Franklin You Thought You Knew

Ben Franklin and the Electric Christmas Turkey

This being the December newsletter, I thought about including some Franklin Christmas remembrances. I could not, however, find any heart-warming family remembrances of Christmas in the Franklin family. Benjamin grew up in Boston, in a Puritan family, and Puritans generally rejected such celebrations as frivolous. After he moved to Philadelphia and eventually married and had a family of his own, there were most likely celebrations of the holiday with their fellow Anglicans. These celebrations would probably have consisted of food and Christmas punch and small gifts, but not nearly the ritual that would characterize the German and Swedish Lutherans in the city.

Benjamin Franklin did, however, reveal an exciting story of a Christmas in 1750, a real Christmas memory that he would never forget. Franklin had for two years been experimenting with electricity, and would publish in 1751 his ELEMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS ON ELECTRICITY.

As Christmas approached in 1750, Franklin thought,

“Why not kill a turkey with electricity, perhaps even cook it with electricity?”

He thought that such a method of dispatch might produce a more tender bird, and, what the hell, it was in the name of science. Franklin took two large jars of electrified water, called Leyden jars, after the university in Holland where they were invented. These were larger and more powerful than he normally used, containing “40 vials of the stuff”. He later wrote that he held in one hand two united wires, and in the other a chain connected to the outside of the jars. Things did not go as planned. Witnesses saw a “great flash” and heard a “loud crack”. Franklin was “knocked senseless,” and experienced violent shaking.

A Christmas to remember.

And so, while there may not be “heartwarming” memories from childhood, Benjamin Franklin’s heart was most assuredly warmed, along with the rest of his body, by Christmas, 1750.

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